State Senator William “Bill” Stanley (R-Franklin) filed a lawsuit against Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, Attorney General Mark Herring, and the Virginia Alcohol Beverage and Control Board on behalf of former NASCAR driver Hermie Sadler this week. Sadler, an Emporia, Virginia resident, wants the newly-signed legislation banning “skill games” in the Commonwealth to be deemed unconstitutional.
Sadler released a statement over the weekend:
On Monday Morning, June 21, 2021, Bill Stanley, an attorney for former NASCAR driver and Virginia small business owner Hermie Sadler will file with Mr. Sadler a lawsuit against the Commonwealth of Virginia, Governor Ralph Northam, Attorney General Mark Herring and the Virginia ABC in the Circuit Court for Greensville County, seeking declaratory relief from the Court to rule that SB 971 (banning skill games in Virginia), passed by the General Assembly (as Amended) and signed into law by Gov. Northam, is unconstitutional as a matter of law, and is therefore unenforceable.”
In addition, Sadler wrote:
I will only say that this is not about whether you like gaming or not, this is about our legislators cutting out skill games for small business owners all over the state in favor of paving the way for the new casinos the state is welcoming.
I am fighting for not only my family and business, but all small businesses in Virginia that this will negatively impact.”
After his retirement from driving race cars, Sadler began to purchase multiple small businesses – many of the convenience stores. As the “skill games” became prevalent across the Commonwealth, he was able to install them in his stores. The Emporia, Virginia businessman has been on record saying these machines helped keep his and other stores like his afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to a report from The Roanoke Times, these machines avoided the Commonwealth’s ban on slot machines because of the skill element to the games, hence the name “skill games.” Virginia almost banned the machines, then kept them due to the COVID-19 pandemic as a source of revenue. The “skill game” machines were able to bring in $90 million dollars in tax revenues to help with pandemic needs. However, the casino and sports betting industry would like to ban the devices in order to drive customers back to their facilities.
In the same January 2021 article, Sadler advocated for the “skill games:”
Sadler thinks lawmakers have been swayed by the other gambling interests, like the casino industry. Four cities — Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth — plan to get a casino in the future. But Sadler said that for those areas far away from the casinos, they should be allowed to operate another form of gaming, too.
“I’m not sure why they wouldn’t extend it for a couple more years and then not go through this again,” Sadler said. “I don’t know why anybody could say anything negative about the machines this year after what they’ve been able to do for businesses and COVID relief.”
But there are multiple opponents to the “skill games,” one of them is powerful House Appropriations Chairman Luke Torian (D-Prince William). Delegate Torian was quoted by Virginia Mercury in 2020 expressing his displeasure with the lack of General Assembly approval. He stated:
If you want to do business in Virginia, you know that there’s a process that we go through.
It’s so unfortunate that we have to be in this position before all of you wonderful people.
Additionally, the Virginia State Lottery Commission is heavily opposed to the skill games, because it was once estimated that the Virginia Lottery would lose up to $140 million in revenue. Between casino and sports betting lobbyists, and the Virginia Lottery Commission crying foul over loss of revenue, and General Assembly leaders who feel disrespected – the “skill machines” were banned.
Sadler and Senator Stanley held a press conference in Capital Square Monday afternoon to speak with the press about Sadler’s suit.
Stanley told reporters, “[the state] “picking winners and losers is un-American and un-Virginian.”
The Franklin County attorney and longtime legislator added, “These small businessmen and women are the ones who are being hurt the most by this decision of the commonwealth.”
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Matt Colt Hall is a reporter for The Virginia Star and the Star News Network. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattColtHall on Twitter. Send tips to [email protected]
Photo “Sadler’s Racing Chevrolet” by RAVDesigns CC-BY-SA CC 2.0 and photo “William Stanley” by Senator Bill Stanley.